Monday, January 28, 2013

Athena and Ares

One thing that I kept an eye out for in the Iliad was the actions of Athena and Ares.  This was mostly because of a passage in Neal Stephenson's 'Cryptonomicon' outlining the differences between them.  I found a transcription of it here.  Excerpt:

"She was the goddess of metis, which means cunning and craftiness. . . . The word that we use today to mean the same thing, is really technology. . . . Instead of calling Athena the goddess of war, wisdom and macrame, then, we should say war and technology. And here again we have the problem of an overlap with the jurisdiction of Ares, who's supposed to be the god of war. And let's just say that Ares is a complete asshole. His personal aides are Fear and Terror and sometimes Strife. He is constantly at odds with Athena even though -- maybe because -- they are nominally the god and goddess of the same thing -- war. Heracles, who is one of Athena's human proteges, physically wounds Ares on two occasions, and even strips him of his weapons at one point! You see, the fascinating thing about Ares is that he's completely incompetent. . . .
"So insofar as Athena is a goddess of war, what really do we mean by that? Note that her most famous weapon is not her sword but her shield Aegis, and Aegis has a gorgon's head on it, so that anyone who attacks her is in serious danger of being turned to stone. She's always described as being calm and majestic, neither of which adjectives anyone ever applied to Ares. . . ."
"Let's face it, Randy, we've all known guys like Ares. The pattern of human behavior that caused the internal mental representation of Ares to appear in the minds of the ancient Greeks is very much alive today, in the form of terrorists, serial killers, riots, pogroms, and aggressive tinhorn dictators who turn out to be military incompetents. And yet for all their stupidity and incompetence, people like that can conquer and control large chunks of the world if they are not resisted. . . . Who is going to fight them off, Randy?
"I'm afraid you're going to say we are."
"Sometimes it might be other Ares-worshippers, as when Iran and Iraq went to war and no one cared who won. But if Ares-worshippers aren't going to end up running the whole world, somebody needs to do violence to them. This isn't very nice, but it's a fact: civilization requires an Aegis. And the only way to fight the bastards off in the end is through intelligence. Cunning. Metis. . . . Do you kow why we won the Second World War, Randy?"
"Because we built better stuff than the Germans?"
"But why did we build better stuff, Randy? . . . Well, the short answer is that we won because the Germans worshipped Ares and we worshipped Athena."

In the Iliad, Ares really does come off as the embodiment of rage and violence.  He attacks and attacks until Zeus pulls all of the gods off of the field.  Athena is much more crafty.  She keeps finding ways to be active and help her favorites.
(And I highly recommend Neal Stephenson's writing!)

1 comment:

  1. Athena has always been my favourite Greek god (and not surprisngly Ares has always been my least favourite).